New Resolutions……

Happy New Year! 
I know its February-where did January go? January’s often a month that drags but this year my feet hardly touched the ground, with work, family commitments and the shared stresses of my daughters mock exams. One certainty in the New Year, is the threat of the common cold. I’ve made it my mission this month to eat super healthily, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of fresh air. It cant be good to be inside all of the time, even when its a bit chilly. So far, I’ve managed to ‘dodge the bullet’ and remained ‘cold’ free.
I’ve also been hoping for some snow. I love the way it’s so bright and muffles the sounds of the street. We had a brief flurry recently, but sadly it didn’t settle, still, there’s always next year.
Soup is the perfect thing to have when it is really cold outside. I have this romantic vision of clutching a mug of soup, standing outside in the snow. To date I’ve yet to do that, but maybe next time we have a winter wonderland I will.
Summertime is my favourite time of year, and I really love all the sunshine foods that available, but I don’t just confine them to the summer, and so on a dull grey February day, of which there is usually plenty, I make this colourful soup.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Basil Puree (serves 4 generously)
1.8kg ripe tomatoes (you need to feel them!), halved
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
4 medium onions, sliced finely
4 sticks of celery, sliced
1 medium head of fennel, sliced
1/2 fresh chilli, deseeded (more if you like it fiery)
2 tsp tomato puree
2 tsp honey
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper

Basil Puree
60g fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar

  • Preheat the grill.
  • Place the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet.
  • Grill until soft and darkening at the edges.
  • 
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5.
  • Heat the oil and then add the garlic, herbs and the remaining vegetables.
  • Cook until the vegetables start to soften and then transfer to a roasting tin or baking dish and roast for 30 minutes until soft.
  • 
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  • 
Blend until smooth along with the grilled tomatoes, tomato puree, honey and lemon juice, until it is a smooth pouring consistency, adding water if needed.
  • Sieve the mixture to separate the pulp.
  • Heat gently and season to taste.
  • Garnish with a swirl of basil puree.

To make the basil puree

If you have a mini blender, puree the basil with the salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
If not use a pestle and mortar, crushing up the basil with the salt first before and the rest of the ingredients.

coll-ee-fl-ow-ah

Ok, I have to admit it- I’m not a massive fan of cauliflower. I’m not keen on the texture or flavour. It’s a brassica like cabbage (which I love) and broccoli (which is ok sometimes) and Brussels Sprouts (NO!)- One group of foods, but not one of them the same as the other, as far as my taste buds are concerned. That is not to say that I don’t eat Cauliflower. I do. It’s so nutritious.
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=13,
It would be wrong not to. I just have to cut it into small pieces and add a different flavour (cauliflower cheese, anyone?) or blend it up and make it into soup. This soup is really spicy, which suits me, but if you really like the taste of cauliflower, then add less harissa paste.

Moroccan Cauliflower Soup– serves 4
1 large cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp. harissa paste
1 litre gluten free chicken or vegetable stock
50g toasted flaked almonds and a little extra to garnish.

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the spices and harissa paste for 2 minutes.
  • Add the cauliflower followed by the stock and flaked almonds.
  •  Cover and cook for 20 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.
  •  Allow to cool a little and then puree until smooth.
  •  Pour into bowls and top with a swirl of harissa paste mixed with a little water (otherwise it won’t swirl!) and a sprinkling of flaked almonds. And add a swirl of yogurt if you want to cool it down a bit!

Adapted from a recipe by BBC Good Food

Hey Pesto!

I always buy fresh herbs for recipes, but end up throwing most of them out. Occasionally I buy herbs in pots, but me and plants do not go together, My father over the years has given me plants, in hope that I will look after them, but because they don’t talk and tell me they’re thirsty, all of them have hit the dust. Sorry Dad. Most people would be delighted to be given a beautiful orchid. Not me. I just know how it’s going to end, and it won’t be pretty.
I did however buy a basil plant because there weren’t any little packets available in the supermarket. I didn’t end up making the dish I had planned, or did I just forget to garnish something (something I’ve done too many times when we’ve had friends over for dinner!) – I can’t remember. Anyway, I still had the basil plant. I really looked after it, feeding it regularly with sparkling water (which was just due to convenience initially; there was a half used bottle in the kitchen and it poured well!). Basil (by this time, I was forming a bond) really liked the water and I could almost sense its delight every time I watered it. The leaves became large and lush and I knew that I was going to have to use its harvest pretty soon. Hmm, what should I make? Pesto, of course!

Pesto– makes 125ml

25g Pine nuts
40g Basil leaves
25g Grated Parmesan
75ml olive oil
1 garlic clove

  • Cook the pine nuts in a small pan over a low heat until golden. Give the pan a good shake from time to time, and don’t take your eye off the ball! Burnt pine nuts aren’t nice.
  •  Pop the basil, Parmesan, garlic in a food processor.
  • Add the roasted pine nuts and blend.
  • Add the olive oil and blend again.
  • It’s that simple.

Coconut and Raspberry Ice Squares -around 45 pieces

If you like sweet things, then this is for you. I’ve added freeze-dried raspberries between each layer- they look pretty and make a nice contrast to the sweetness. Your sweet tooth will thank you, but your dentist might not!

375g sweetened condensed milk
375g icing sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting
300g desiccated coconut
Pink edible food colouring
2 tbsp. freeze dried raspberries (If you are in the UK, you can buy them from Waitrose in the baking section)

  • In a large bowl mix together the condensed milk and icing sugar with a wooden spoon, until fully combined and very stiff.
  • Divide the mixture in two and add a small amount of food colouring to one half.
  • Dust a board with icing sugar, and shape each half into an equally sized rectangle.
  • Sprinkle the raspberries on one of the halves, and then place the other half on top.
  • Roll with a rolling pin, reshaping into a neat rectangle as you go, until you have a neat rectangle about 3cm thick.
  • Leave to set, uncovered on the board for at least 3 hours.
  • Cut into squares with a sharp knife.

They can be stored for up to a month in an airtight container and make a lovely gift, presented in a cellophane bag or pretty box.

Comforting Cottage Pie – serves 4

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One of my daughters likes to have this after swimming training, as it’s so warm and comforting.  It’s like a big hug in a dish. I like it served with steamed greens or peas.

500g lean minced beef
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek, trimmed and chopped finely
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 tbsp. tomato puree
500ml beef stock
1 ½ tsp. herbs de provence
1 tbsp. sweet chilli sauce
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
800g potatoes, peeled+ 2tbsp milk

  • Preheat the oven to 220C/Fan 200C/Gas 7.
  • Place the mince, onion, leeks and carrots into a large non stick pan and cook until lightly coloured, breaking up the mince with a wooden spoon to ensure it is well combined.
  • Add the tomato puree, beef stock, herbs and sweet chilli sauce and season with salt and plenty of black pepper.
  • Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Boil the potatoes in salted water until they are soft.  Drain and then pass them through a potato ricer.
  • Return the potato to the pan and then adding the milk stir briskly until fluffy.  Season with black pepper.
  • When the beef is cooked pour it into a baking dish, top with the mashed potatoes and bake for 25- 30 minutes until the top is golden and the filling is bubbling.
  •  Let the pie stand for 5 minutes or so, to cool a little before eating!

Cheats Cucumber and Mint Raita

Greek Yogurt

Cucumber, cut into small cubes
Mint Sauce

  • For this recipe you need to make your own judgments about quantity.  Just mix the ingredients together, tasting as you go, until it tastes perfect.  Don’t worry if you make too much, it keeps in the fridge for a couple of days.  It goes well with all spicy food.

Spicy Stuffed Peppers- Serves 6

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I have boxes of recipes that I have torn out of magazines over the years, probably enough to wallpaper my entire house and more!  This dish is inspired by one of those recipes.  It is by Vicky Bhogal, but I’m not sure which magazine it originates from.

It makes a very easy and economical supper. 

6 Yellow, orange or red peppers
4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
75ml sunflower oil
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 onions, chopped finely
1 ½ tsp. chilli flakes
1 tsp. grated rot ginger
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
Handful fresh coriander, chopped

  • Gluten free naan bread and cucumber raita to serve.
  • Preheat oven 200C, fan180C or gas 6.
  • Boil the potatoes until soft (around 10 minutes), then drain.
  • Heat the oil in a large pan with the cumin seeds, 
  • When they are sizzling, add onions and fry gently until soft
  • Add chilli flakes, ginger, salt, garam masala, lemon zest and potatoes. Mix well.
  • Turn off the heat and mash roughly in the pan.
  • Add the coriander and mash again. Set aside.
  • Slice a small slither from the bottom of each pepper so that it will stand up right in a baking tray.
  • Cut the tops off the peppers and gently scoop out the membrane and seeds.  To get any stubborn seeds out, tap the peppers on the palm of your hand, cut side down.
  • Do not discard the stalks.
  • Stuff the peppers with the potato mixture, using your fingers to press in as much as possible. 
  • When they are full, pop the tops back on, so that they look like a whole pepper again.
  • Stand them upright in a baking tray or dish and drizzle with oil.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.

Serve with gluten free naan bread and cucumber and mint raita.

American Style Pancakes

Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday and while everyone else was enjoying pancakes, I thought I would only be able to spectate, as I hadn’t found a good gluten free substitute. I came across this recipe for gluten free American Pancakes just in the nick of time.  I also don’t have a frying pan at the moment so had to improvise with a cast iron flat casserole, which meant that there was more washing up than usual, but it really was worth the effort! I served the pancakes with Vanilla Ice Cream and fruit, oh, and a drizzle of maple syrup. Delicious!

The recipe serves 5, but that all depends on how much you can trust yourself not to eat the whole lot!

125g gluten free plain flour
1 tsp. gluten free baking powder
1/2tsp xanthan gum

½ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. caster sugar
150ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
2 medium eggs
15g melted butter

Vegetable oil for frying
Toppings of your choice

  • Mix the flour, baking powder, xanthan gum salt and sugar in a large bowl and mix well to combine.
  •  In a jug, beat together the eggs and milk.
  • Add to the dry ingredients, followed by the butter.
  • Beat until smooth and lump free, until it has a dropping consistency
  •  Heat a few drops of oil in a non-stick frying pan.
  • Using a dessertspoon, drop 3 rounds of batter into the pan (if your pan isn’t large enough do 2 rounds), so they spread to about 9cm in diameter. Reduce the heat.
  • After 2 minutes turn the pancake over with a spatula and cook the other side until golden brown and puffed up to about 1cm thick.
  • Layer the pancakes in greaseproof paper and wrap in a tea towel to keep warm. Make more pancakes until all the mixture is used up.
  • Top with whatever ingredients take your fancy.